January 17, 2007

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Civil rights highlighted
Local groups screen award-winning MLK film
By Brian†Early bearly@hippopress.com

Stephen Ambra is a founding member of the New Hampshire Technical Institutesí Film Society, which screens and discusses independent films. On Jan. 20 and Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the film society teams up with the Concord Interfaith Council and Red River Theatres to screen At the River I Stand, a movie that chronicles the last days of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and his involvement with the labor dispute of the sanitation workers of the city. The movie received the 1994 Erik Barnouw Award for best documentary by the Organization of American Historians. The movie is in conjunction with Red Riverís monthly Community Conversation, where a film is screened and a discussion is held afterward. On Jan. 20, film times are 3 and 6 p.m. On Jan. 21, the film starts at 7 p.m. There will be a discussion following each screening. Ambra also works at NHTI at the library as the director of learning resources and as the head coach of the womenís soccer team.

Q: How would you describe the movie?
One of the things that surprised me about this film was just how powerful it was. There are really two separate strands of this film. One is the sanitation workersí strike that went on in Memphis. The other strand is Martin Luther King, who at first Ö did not really want to become involved with a labor dispute, and how he became involved and how the two became intertwined is so powerful because it really is civil rights and labor coming together to fight an injustice in the city.

Why did you choose this movie?
Itís a film that is not seen as often as others and Ö the film is extremely well done. It has great values Ö as a film [and] as a documentary. It was judged by the Organization of American Historians for its accuracy. As a documentary, itís extremely well edited. It has great pacing, and itís compelling film-making. And itís one of those films that is not as visible to a larger audience, and it ought to be. When people see this film, because of the production values, because of the content, because of the story, and it has the last days of Martin Luther King all intertwined, it becomes so gripping, so powerful.

What can people expect at the question-and-answer?
It will be some history, but it will also be getting a sense from the audience of how far weíve come ... in terms of race, in terms of prejudice, in terms of labor ó and how far we havenít come. The discussions we had last year were far-ranging, quite penetrating.... The crowds we had last year really enjoyed the opportunity to comment about the film, to ask questions about it, to put into an historical context, as well as see what it means in todayís world. It still teaches. Itís not just an isolated historical event. Because the film is done so well, it teaches us today. Part of the power of this film is Martin Luther Kingís last appearance at a major rally, and his speech about seeing the promised land, but not perhaps ever getting to the promised land. It is extremely powerful.

How did this come together for the community conversations?
It really is a collaborative process. Ö all three of us are working together for a deeper understanding in the community. This is the kind of film that you wouldnít see commercially and yet is now available in our region through of the collaboration of all three groups.

Why do you enjoy of the community conversation part of it?
You have the opportunity to have the film-goers ... talk to film-makers, talk to people who possess a certain expertise or knowledge ... and it becomes a teaching and learning moment. Itís an opportunity to exchange ideas, and itís so rewarding to have this exchange. Itís really a continuation of what we do at NHTI. ... Thatís one of the things we pride ourselves on Ö having that engagement.

What were some of the issues that came up last year when you discussed the same movie?
Part of it was putting the civil rights movement into a context. Some people couldnít fathom that there was such racial prejudice in this country in the 1960s or earlier. They were really horrified that people would be treated like this in our country. It helped put the civil rights movement into a context for them. In a sense we have moved so far in such a short time dealing with racial prejudice that this film helped focus and put into context where weíve been in order to understand where we are and where we are going.

óBrian Early


Stephen Ambra, a member of the New Hampshire Technical Institutesí Film Society, will screen the movie At the River I Stand in conjunction with Red River Theatres and the Concord Interfaith Council for Red Riverís monthly Community Conversation.